Keeping It Simple in a Closed-Business Chapter 7 Case

Using a Chapter 7 case to clean up after closing down your business will be easy or not depending largely on three factors: business assets, taxes, and other nondischargeable debts. These three will usually also determine if you should be in a Chapter 7 case or instead in a Chapter 13 one.

Once you’ve closed down your business and decided to file bankruptcy, you may have a strong gut feeling about choosing the Chapter 7 option. After what you’ve been through, you just want a fresh, clean start. If you’d put years of blood, sweat and tears into trying to get your business to succeed, and then finally had to throw in the towel after resisting doing so for so long, at this point you likely feel like it’s time to put all that behind you. The last thing you likely feel like doing is dragging things along for the next three to five years that a Chapter 13 case usually lasts.

And you may well be ABLE to file a Chapter 7 case. The “means test” largely determines whether, given your income and expenses, you can file a Chapter 7 case. In my last blog I told you that you can avoid the “means test” altogether if more than half of your debts are business debts instead of consumer debts. But even if that does not apply to you, the “means test” will still not likely stand in your way, especially if you just closed down your business recently. That’s because the period of income that counts for the “means test” is the six full calendar months before your bankruptcy case is filed. An about-to-fail business usually isn’t generating much income.

But usually the question is not whether you are able to file a Chapter 7 case, but rather whether doing so is really better for you than a Chapter 13 one.

Many factors can come into play, but the following three seem to come up all the time:

1. Business assets: There are two kinds of Chapter 7 cases: “no asset” and “asset.” In the former, the Chapter 7 trustee decides—usually quite quickly—that none of your assets (which technically belong to your “bankruptcy estate”) are worth taking and selling to pay creditors. Either all those assets are “exempt” from the reach of the trustee, or are not worth enough for the trustee to bother. But with a recently closed business, there are more likely to be assets that are not exempt and are worth the trustee’s effort to collect and liquidate. If you have such collectable business assets, you will want to discuss with your attorney where the anticipated proceeds of the Chapter 7 trustee’s sale of those assets would likely go, and whether that is in your best interest compared to what would happen to those assets in a Chapter 13 case.

2. Taxes: Just about every closed-business bankruptcy seems to involve tax debts. Although some taxes CAN be discharged in a Chapter 7 case, most cannot. Chapter 13 is often a better way to deal with taxes. This will depend on the precise kind of tax—personal income tax, employee withholding tax, sales tax—and on a series of other factors such as when the tax became due, whether a tax return was filed, if so when, and whether a tax lien was recorded.

3. Other nondischargeable debts: Bankruptcies involving former businesses seem to get more than the usual amount of creditor challenges to the discharge of debts. These challenges are usually based on allegations that the business owner acted in some fraudulent fashion against a former business partner, a business landlord. or some other major creditor.  Such litigation, often started or at least threatened before the bankruptcy is filed, can turn an otherwise simple bankruptcy case into a long and expensive battle, regardless whether your case is a Chapter 7 or 13. But depending on the nature of the anticipated allegations, Chapter 13 may give you certain legal and tactical advantages over Chapter 7.

I’ll expand on these three one at a time in my next three blogs. From them you will be able to get a much better idea whether your business bankruptcy case should be in a Chapter 7 or not, and if so whether it will likely be relatively simple or not.